Books read August 2017


Marva J Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time, Grand Rapids MI, Eerdmans, 1995.

Marva Dawn (Gersmehl…the surname Dawn is a pseudonym) is a Lutheran evangelical theologian, musician, teacher (formerly at Regent College Vancouver) and world renowned speaker, now retired. She has written many works across a range of practical and theological issues. This book is the theological foundation for her shorter and more concise 2003 book How Shall We Worship: Biblical Guidelines for the Worship Wars. (reviewed in this blog under “Books read February – April 2017”.  Dawn’s remarkable academic output and public career is the more impressive given her massive medical difficulties which include nerve damage, cancer and near blindness at times. (summarised on p93 of this book).

This book was written in response to the late C20th rise of the megachurch in the USA and around the evangelical world based largely on “contemporary” (a disputed term in this text) music, non-liturgical worship, and often with a “star preacher” headlining.

Parts 1 and 11 consist of a cultural and sociological analysis of the American baby boomers from the revolution of the 1960s, through modernism,  to the late C20th development of the postmodernism ‘revolution’. The analysis owes a considerable debt to Jacques Ellul’s critique of technology (the subject of Dawn’s doctoral thesis), Neil Postman’s influential Amusing Ourselves to Death, Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism and the theological critique of evangelicalism by David Wells entitled, No Place for Truth; or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?, a conversation which has perhaps since been overtaken by Mark Noll and Andreas Köstenberger. Read today twenty years later this section with its heavy emphasis on the evils of television (Dawn has never owned one) reads a little datedly in our current world of Facebook, instagram,twitter, podcasts, powerful video recording systems, streaming devices and digital photography and short film making to name just a few current obsessions.

Parts 111, IV.8 are a sustained analysis of the culture of and in much contemporary worship and music. Dawn works hard at neutrality and freely admits her own biases towards liturgical worship nevertheless these sections are a celebration of the whole history of good church music ancient and modern. Enthusiasts for contemporary worship are right in seeking to reach out to persons in the culture around us and in rejecting tradition that has grown stale. Those who value the Church’s worship heritage are right to question the faithfulness and integrity of many contemporary worship forms and to seek a noticeable difference in worship that underscores the Church’s countercultural emphasis. (p93).

A key element in her analysis is the place of emotion in worship.  She writes helpfully..Since feelings are so easily swayed by the circumstances of the moment, they cannot be a reliable guide for knowing God. Yet they are important for our response to God and cannot be repressed, ignored or forced. (p70). On the same page Dawn admits to overemphasizing “the thought side of the dialectic… For someone like me, dramatically influenced by key emotional moments in my spiritual journey [ e.g. standing up, at age 8, for Christ on the MCG in 1956 following a call from Billy Graham; mass corporate singing at Belgrave Heights Convention at age 15, campfire singing on the Seaspray beach at beach mission team meetings at age 17; evangelical worship at Evangelical Union national conferences during Melbourne University days; deeply moving Hillsong type music at Berwick Anglican Church today ], Dawn’s continuing critique of “dumbing down” and “narcissism” on the issue of emotion becomes somewhat repetitive. I cannot imagine my religious life without a deep and ongoing expression of my love for God in song. Having said this I often wonder how such an emphasis on music in much evangelical worship today goes down with folk who are tone deaf or for other reasons don’t like singing out loud. So much of worship is inevitably personal especially when it comes to music! And this personal attachment to certain forms of music is the cause of substantial heated discussion in many church congregations today.

One area I felt was missing from this discussion is the extent to which much high end orchestral and choral music is valued in worship e.g. cathedral worship, for its cultural worth rather than its spiritual value for the congregation. One particular example is that much choral work in, for example Australian Anglican cathedral worship services is so complex that the congregation is unable to participate in the responses.

Part IV.9,10 and Part V deals in some detail with the non-musical components of worship including the Bible and how it is used, liturgy, ritual and art as well as a detailed analysis of the  components of the sermon including children’s talks.  There is much here for both pastors and congregations to think through.

The Bibliography is helpful but I think the book would be stronger with a detailed index of topics as a vast amount of material is covered.  This is a very useful debate about worship today.  4 stars.

Colson Whitehead,  The Underground Railroad, London, Fleet, 2017

One of the most disturbing and uneasy novels I have read in a long-time. Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road  but instead of a dystopic future this novel reveals the terror and sadness of a recent past reaching into the present…it shines a light on white supremacists wherever they may be found in the US, Australia or central Europe. A fiction but based on newspaper advertisements and records of genuine Southern US slavery victims and runaways the novel leaves one with a sense of desperation that human values and behaviour will never amount to very much. One reviewer suggests the novel doesn’t send a message but it does to me. We can cover up humanity with glossy superficiality and first world luxury but deep down the human condition is broken from within and the brokenness needs a power and spirit beyond the human to transform it. Great literature challenges and humanises. This new novel is moving in that direction and I hope it commands a wide audience.  Five stars.

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, translated (brilliantly) by Willard R Trask, Introduction by ( equally brilliant cultural theorist) Edward, W Said,  Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2013 (written during WW11 in Istanbul and first published in Switzerland, 1946).

For a literature buff, this is a towering and mesmerising 574 pages of brilliant literary analysis of the European canon from Homer to Virginia Woolf! Auerbach was a German Jewish academic expelled from Germany by the Nazis in 1935. He taught Romance languages in Istanbul until the late 1940s before emigrating to the United States and teaching in Princeton and Pennsylvania State University before finishing his career as Sterling Professor of Romance Philology at Yale. Auerbach fought for Germany in World War 1, had qualifications in both Law and Romance languages at doctoral level and demonstrates a deep knowledge down to philological level of Greek, Latin, Provençal, German, French, English, Italian and Spanish languages and literature. In addition he evidences a thorough knowledge and understanding of both the Jewish and Christian scriptures and is comfortable dealing in depth with the Western philosophical canon. At one point Auerbach came particularly under the spell of the Persian poet Hafiz and wrote verses in his style. In particular he had a lifelong interest in the C18th Neapolitan philosopher, rhetorician, historian and Professor of Latin eloquence and jurisprudence, Giambattista Vico. Vico’s influence is clearly seen in Auerbach’s interest in what came to be called “historism”. Historism approaches all ideas and arguments in literature, religion, the law and the arts based on their historical context and not on any predetermined laws or theories.

Auerbach is a polymath to be reckoned with and, even more delightfully, he analyses literary texts with a deep historical and philosophic concern certainly, but without the paralyzing late C20th straightjacket of feminist, race, structuralist, post-modern or queer theory rule books! Each text to be analyzed commences with a healthy chunk of the original in its original language followed by an excellent translation (sometimes aided by other scholars).  One challenge for the reader is that in each chapter, while large paragraphs of material are translated,  single sentences and phrases in Latin, French and German are not always translated which takes additional time for the less multilingual reader!

“Mimesis” (μιμησις ) is a classical Greek term meaning representation, imitation or mimicry.  Auerbach uses the term in this text to mean “representation’ and one of his key judgments about the literature analysed is the extent to which the literature represents normal human reality..especially that of the “average” person rather than the literary preoccupation with leaders, the highest level of society, royalty, rulers, heroes, statesmen etc. [Luckily for Auerbach he did not have to deal too much with the current passion for fantasy literature, let alone magic realism!]  Interestingly Auerbach struggles to find the reality of the “ordinary man” much before the late C19th and C20th.

Mimesis looks in detail at texts by Homer, The Old and New Testament, Petronius, Tacitus, C4th historian Ammianus Marcellinus, Apuleius, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory of Tours,  The Song of Roland, Chréttien de Troyes’ (Yvain), C12th Mediaeval Mystery play ( Mystère d’Adam), Bernard of Clairveaux St Francis of Assisi (letters), Dante [and mediaeval commentators Pietro Alighieri and Jacobo della Lana), Boccaccio, Antoine De La Salle (C15th knight, soldier, tutor of Princes (Le Réconfort de Madame du Fresne), Rabelais, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, La Bruyère, Racine, Basset, Victor Hugo, Corneille, Abbé Prévost (Manon Lescaut); Voltaire; Montesqieu; Diderot; Rousseau; Voltaire; Louis, duc de Saint-Simon, Schiller, Goethe, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Dickens, Thackeray, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (Germinie Lacerteux), Beaudelaire, Zola, Burckhardt, Fontane, NIetzsche, Ibsen, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Doestoevski, Virginia Woolf, Proust, Huysman, Joyce, Thomas Mann, Gide, knut Hamsun.

Of course there are gaps, inevitably so. Many will regard the British writers as poorly done by, certainly Said thinks so.  We look in vain for Trollope, the Brontes,  George Eliot, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy or D H Lawrence; Conrad also is missing. On the other hand we are introduced to texts that most of us have rarely looked at let alone carefully analysed.

In the final analysis this is a deeply moral and religious book.  Auerbach has a deep knowledge of the Bible, Christian theology and Church History. But, as with C S Lewis’s criticism of English Literature, Auerbach does not let his Jewish and Christian background and reading vitiate his explication and appraisal of the Western literary canon. Auerbach  concludes that it was the story of Christ, with its ruthless mixture of everyday reality and the highest and most sublime tragedy, which conquered the classical ‘rule of styles’ in the Middle Ages, and contrasts this with the achievements of modern Realism. [in M Drabble, Ed., “Auerbach, Erich” in The Oxford Companion to English Literature, Oxford, OUP, 1997.] 5 stars and rising!

There are many gems in Auerbach as well as  Said’s introduction. Some examples: [Auerbach’s recognition and] stern condemnation of Goethe’s dislike of upheaval and even of change itself, his interest in aristocratic culture, his deep-seated wish to be rid of the “revolutionary occurrences” taking place all over Europe, and his inability to understand the flow of popular history. Auerbach was discussing no mere failure of perception but a profound wrong turn in German culture as a whole that led to the horrors of the present.[ie Nazism] Said: Introduction p. xxxix.

Auerbach: p15. The Bible stories seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels….doctrine and the search for enlightenment are inextricably connected with the physical side of the [Biblical] narrative.

 p89. An amazing description of the style, aim and purpose of classical Latin. On p119 Auerbach tracks the development of Christian narrative into dogma. P120. the decline of the culture of antiquity…Christianity was drawn into this rigidification.. p121 the literature only deals with the top strata of society….in the late antique world the heroic epic is history. p134 Coutesie became a personal and absolute ideal.  [in the work of Chrétien de Troyes]…in the Arthurian Cycle ..courtly life and adventure developed the doctrine of personal perfection. At the same time came the influence of Victorine and Cistercian mysticism.

p151..the simple reality in the mediaeval morality play. P167: the contents of the letters of St Francis is the doctrine. p190ff brilliant analysis of Dante’s Divine Comedy. [With Shakespeare]…the drama of Christ is no longer the central drama—-the way is open for an autonomously human tragedy. p.72 Re Augustine..Equally at home in the world of classical rhetoric and in that of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, he may well have been the first to become conscious of the problem of the stylistic contrast between the two worlds…p75 Almost everything which Augustine himself adds to the Biblical account [in The City of God] serves to explain the historical situation in rational terms and to reconcile the figural interpretation with the conception of an uninterrupted historical sequence of events.

 p.89 re Gregory of Tours: Undoubtedly the rhythm and the atmosphere of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, are always present in Gregory’s mind and help to determine his style…p92 re Gregory of Tours:  A churchman, practically concerned with the life of men, cannot separate these realms. He encounters human tragedy every day in the mixed, random material of life. p93 Gregory of Tours again: But why should I be ashamed of my lack of culture, if our Lord and Redeemer, to destroy the vanity of worldly wisdom, chose not orators but fishermen, not philosophers but peasants?

p111-2..Re the Chanson de Roland and the Chanson d’Alexis… the subject…is narrow…all the categories of this life and the next are unambiguous, immutable, fixed in rigid formulations. This rigid style is contrasted with …The mere fact that the most famous German epics, from the Hildebrandislied to the Nibelungenlied, derive their historical setting from the wild and spacious epoch of the tribal migrations rather than from the solidly established structure of the age of feudalism, gives them greater breadth and freedom. The Germanic themes of the age of the migrations did not reach Gallo-Roman territory, or at least they could not strike root there. And Christianity has almost no significance at all for the Germanic heroic epic.

p154f…The mediaeval mystery plays, like the spiritual teachings of Augustine and Bernard of Clairvaux …describe the type of comprehension [of the Biblical story, especially meditation on Christ’s life and passion] which is open to the humble and simple…and the complete transformation into mysticism is to be found in Bernard….Auerbach comments on a passage [in Latin] from Bernard: Several thoughts in complex interdependence are expressed in these passages: that Holy Scripture favours those whose hearts are simple and filled with faith; that such a heart is a prerequisite to “sharing” in it, for sharing and not a purely rational understanding is what it seeks to offer…not couched in an “elevated style, but in simple words, so that anyone can ascend  quasi gradatim, from the simple to the sublime and divine…the mediaeval Christian drama falls perfectly within this tradition…it opens its arms invitingly to receive the simple and untutored and to lead them from the concrete, the everyday, to the hidden and the true—precisely as did that great plastic art of the mediaeval churches…

p194: Dante’s elevated style consists precisely in integrating what is characteristically individual and at times horrible, ugly, grotesque, and vulgar with the dignity of God’s judgment— a dignity which transcends the ultimate limits of our earthly conception of the sublime….For all of creation is a constant reduplication and emanation of the active love of God….the goal of the process of salvation, the white rose in the Empyrean, the community of the elect in God’s no longer veiled presence, is not only a certain hope for the future but is from all eternity perfect in God and prefigured for men, as Christ is in Adam.

p195 …the universal Roman monarchy….is in Dante’s view the concrete, earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God….Just as the Judaeo-Christian method of interpretation referred to in the Old Testament by Paul and the Church Fathers, conceives of Adam as a figure of Christ, of Eve as a figure of the Church, just as generally speaking every event and every phenomenon referred to in the Old Testament is conceived  as a figure which only the phenomena and events of Christ’s Incarnation can completely realise or “fulfill’ (to use the conventional expression), so the universal Roman Empire here appears as an earthly figure of heavenly fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.

p196 The Church Fathers, especially Tertullian, Jerome and Augustine, had successfully defended figural realism, that is, the maintenance of the basic historical reality of figures, against all attempts at spiritually allegorical interpretation…This figural realism dominates Dante’s view.

p197 …the particular way in which [Dante’s] realistic genius achieved form, we explain through the figural point of view. This enables us to understand that the beyond is eternal yet phenomenal; that it is changeless and of all time and yet full of history. It also enables us to show in what way this realism in the beyond is distinguished from every type of purely earthly realism.

p198 Dante acknowledges a debt to Virgil: “Thou alone art he to whom I owe the beautiful style which has done me honour.”

p199 never before…has so much art and so much expressive power been employed to produce an almost painfully immediate expression of the earthly reality of human beings. It was precisely the Christian idea of the indestructibility of the entire human individual which made this possible for Dante.

p200 producing this effect with such power and so much realism..[Dante] opened the way for that aspiration toward autonomy which possesses all earthly existence. In the very heart of the other world, he created a world of earthly beings and passions so powerful that it breaks bounds and proclaims its independence…a doctrine of salvation in which the eternal destiny depends upon grace and repentance can no more dispense with such figures in Hell that it can with virtuous pagans in Limbo.

p217 Re Boccaccio: …the more mature he grows, the stronger become the competing bourgeois and humanist factors and especially his mastery of what is robust and popular…despite his occasional attempts to reach out for something more, he remains within the limits of the intermediate style…which…is designated for the representation of sensual love. cf p224 …of the figural-Christian conception which pervaded Dante’s imitation of the earthly and human world and which gave it power and depth, no trace is to be found in Boccaccio’s book. Boccaccio’s characters live on earth and only on earth. cf p225 ..considering that the preachments made of friars, to rebuke men of their sins, are nowadays for the most part seen full of quips and cranks and jibes, I consider that these latter would not sit amiss in my stories written to ease women of melancholy. p226 [Boccaccio’s] ethics of love is a recasting of courtly love, tuned several degrees lower in the scale of style, and concerned exclusively with the sensual and the real. p227 “The Decameron” develops a distinct, thoroughly practical and secular ethical code rooted in the right to love, an ethics which in its very essence is anti-Christian. It is presented with much grace and without any strong claim to doctrinal validity. The book rarely abandons the stylistic level of light entertainment.

p242 re Antoine De La Salle…his language is a class language; and everything determined by class is non-humanist. cf p243 ..The mixture of heavily pompous language with the naïveté of enumeration in composition produces an impression of dragging and ponderous monotony in tempo which is not without its peculiar magnificence. It is a variety of the elevated style; but it is class-determined, it is non-humanist, nonclassical, and entirely mediaeval

p249 …of essential importance for late mediaeval realism—the very point which induced me to to employ in this chapter the new term “creatural.” It is characteristic of Christian anthropology from its beginnings that it emphasises man’s subjection to suffering and transitoriness. This was a necessary concomitant of the idea of Christ’s Passion as part of the story of salvation. Yet during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the corresponding devaluation and denigration of earthly existence had not reached the extreme which characterizes the era here under discussion…Dante is an example of a man for whom (as for many of his contemporaries) secular planning and political endeavour on the part of individuals and human society at large was highly significant, ethically relevant, and decisive for eternal salvation. cf p250 [By the end of the Middle Ages]…the more prevailing attitude is that which, in the creatural character of man, reads only the fruitlessness and vanity of all earthly endeavour. For many in the countries north of the Alps, consciousness of their own predestined decay with that of all their works has a paralyzing effect upon intellectual endeavour insofar as its purpose is to make practical plans concerned with the future of life in this world…[such action] seems to them without value and without dignity…  a mere play of instincts and passions. cf. p260 The realism of the Franco-Burgundian of the fifteenth century is then, narrow and mediaeval. It has no new attitudes which might reshape the world of earthly realities and it is hardly aware that the mediaeval categories are losing their power….in breadth of vision, refinement of language and formative power it is far inferior to what the Italian late mediaeval and early humanist flowering had produced a full century earlier in Dante and Boccaccio.

p269 Re Rabelais’ fantastical tales of whole countries being explored inside the mouth of the giants Gargantua and Pantagruel lies… an entirely different theme—the theme of the discovery of a new world, with all the astonishment, the widening horizons and change in the world picture, which follow upon such a discovery…This is one of the great motifs of the Renaissance and of the two following centuries, one of the themes which served as levers toward political, religious, economic, and philsophic revolution. cf p270 …we must not forget that Rabelais first called the country of his giants Utopia, a name which he borrowed from Thomas More’s book, which had appeared sixteen years earlier, and that More—to whom, of all his contemporaries, Rabelais perhaps owed the most.. p271 [In the midst of Rabelais’ grotesque-comic and popular style …there is matter-of-fact narrative, philosophic ideas flash out, and amid all the grotesque machinery rises the terrible creatural picture of the plague, when the dead are taken from the city by cartloads. This sort of mixture of styles was not invented by Rabelais. He of course adapted it to his temperament and his purposes, but, paradoxically, it stems from late mediaeval preaching, in which the Christian tradition exaggerated the mixture of styles to the utmost. These sermons are at once popular in the crudest way, creaturely realistic, and learned and edifying in their figural Biblical interpretation. From the spirit of late mediaeval preaching and above all from the atmosphere which surrounded the popular (in both the good and bad senses) mendicant orders, the humanists adopted this mixture of styles, especially for their anti-ecclesiasticals, polemical and satiric writings. cf p273 Rabelais’ multiplicity of images and examples include a superabundance of medical and humanistic erudition. cf p274 [Many of Rabelais’ characters are] are endowed with the crafty, idiomatic, and subtlee wit which is natural to almost all of Rabelais’ personages. p275 Rabelais’ jokes are as usual, stuffed with the most various and grotesque erudition.

p276 In my opinion, many critics miss the essential point when they make Rabelais’ divorce from Christian dogma the decisive factor in interpreting him. True, he is no longer a believer, in the ecclesiastical sense; but he is very far from taking a stance upon some form of disbelief, like a rationalist of later times. Nor is it permissible to draw any too far-reaching conclusions from his satire on Christian subjects, for the Middle Ages already offers examples of this which are not essentially different from Rabelais’ blasphemous joking. [eg even in the Mystery plays]. The revolution in his way of thinking is not his opposition to Christianity, but the freedom of vision, feeling and thought which his perpetual playing with things produces, and which invites the reader to deal directly with the world and its wealth of phenomena. …For him, the man who follows his nature is good, and natural life, be it of men or things is good. [Auerbach suggests this approach, contrary to the above paragraph, is anti-Christian, but I don’t agree with him …surely God created human nature and natural life to be good and in many ways it is good…It is triumphant earthly life which calls forth his realistic and super-realistic mimesis. And that is completely anti-Christian….I don’t agree that it is anti-Christian.

p277 [Rabelais] mingles complacent cunning, wit, and humanism, with an elementally pitiless cruelty which is perpetually flickering in the background…..the Christian unity of the cosmos, and the figural preservation of the earthly personality in the divine judgment, led to a very strong concept of the indestructible  permanence of the individual (most strongly evident in Dante…)..and this was first endangered when Christian unity and Christian immortality no longer dominated the European concept of the universe.  This is fair…without a sense of eternal existence and an ongoing human story, man does flounder..and nihilism is never very far away when God, purpose and spiritual formation is ignored.

p278 In Rabelais there is no aesthetic standard. Everything goes with everything. Ordinary reality is set within the most improbable fantasy, the coarsest jokes are filled with erudition, moral and philosophical enlightenment flows out of obscene expressions and stories.

p280 …for Rabelais, something close to buffoonery…in which, at the same time divine wisdom and perfect virtue are concealed. It is as much a style of life as a literary style; it is, as in Socrates, (and in Montaigne too), the expression of the man….a fruitful irony which confuses the customary aspects and proportions of things, which makes the real appear in the super-real, wisdom in folly, rebellion in a cheerful and flavourful acceptance of life; which, through the play of possibilities, casts a dawning light on the possibility of freedom. I consider it a mistake to probe Rabelais’ hidden meaning..for some definite and clearly outlined doctrine;  the thing which lies concealed in his work, yet which is conveyed in a thousand ways, is an intellectual attitude, which he himself calls Pantagruelism; a grasp of life, which allows none of life’s possibilities to escape. To describe it in more detail is not a wise undertaking—for one would immediately find oneself forced into competition with Rabelais. He himself is constantly describing it, and he can do it better than we can….wildly as the storm sometimes rages in his book, every line, every word, is strictly under control.

p284 In summary the style of Rabelais’ style expresses ces beaux livres de haulte grease. [“well-fattened books!]

p291 Re Montaigne, a man..who is alone with himself, finds enough life and as it were bodily warmth in his ideas to be able to write as though he were speaking….a faint note of proudly aristocratic contempt for the writer’s craft (si j’était fairer de livres);,,,an inclination to belittle his own particular approach.

p300 Montaigne’s intention to put himself as the primary centre of his writing and his claim that no one else has ever done this seems to imply that he was unaware of Augustine’s Confessions. Auerbach comments: is not possible that he should not have been aware at least of the existence and the character of this famous book. Perhaps he rather shrank from the comparison; perhaps it is a perfectly genuine and un-ironical modesty that prevents him from establishing a relationship between himself and his method and the most important of the Fathers….and yet there is no other earlier author from whom anything so basically important is preserved in Montaigne’s method as the consistent and unreserved self-investigation of Augustine.

p300  The full consciousness of one’s own life implies for Montaigne also full consciousness of one’s own death.

p301 …in his study of his own random life Montaigne’s sole aim is an investigation of the “humane condition” in general.

p302 …our knowledge of men and of his history depends upon the depth of our self-knowledge and the extent of our moral horizon….he cannot rid himself of a certain distrust of historians. He feels that they present human beings too exclusively in extraordinary and heroic situations  and that they are only too ready to give fixed and consistent portraits of character.

p303 [Montaigne] speaks about himself a great deal, and the reader becomes acquainted with all the details not only of his intellectual and spiritual life but also of his physical existence. A great deal of information about his most personal characteristics and habits, his illnesses, his food, and his sexual peculiarities, is scattered through the Essays.There is, to be sure, a certain self-satisfaction in all this. Montaigne is pleased with himself; he knows that he is in all respects a free, a richly gifted, a full, a remarkably well-rounded human being, and despite all his self-irony he cannot completely conceal this delight in his his own person. But it is a calm and self-rooted consciousness  of his individual self, free from pettiness, arrogance, insecurity, and coquetry.

p304 [Montaigne dislikes] formal systems of moral philosophy….their abstraction, the tendency of their methodology to disguise the reality of life, and the turgidity of their terminology…[above all]..their separation of mind and body and do not give the latter a chance to have its say….They all..have too high an opinion of man; they speak of him as if he were only mind and spirit…..the most important passages on this point are those which reveal the Christian creatural sources of his view….ils sçavent que la justice divine embrace sette société et joincture du corps et de l’âme, jusques à rendre le corps capable des recompenses eternalise…the question of his religious profession—which, by the way, I consider an idle question—has nothing to do with the observation that the roots of his realistic conception of man are to be found in the Christian-creatural tradition.

p304 [Montaigne’s] ..malice against the erudite expert and against specialisation requires some comment, …derived from the general Renaissance Humanist generally educated nobility class and the new found educated bourgeoisie which … soon resulted a sort of contempt for professional specialization. The scholar committed to a particular discipline…was considered comic, inferior, and plebeian.

p310 [For Montaigne] …Life on earth is no longer the figure of the life beyond; he can no longer permit himself to scorn and neglect the here for the sake of a there. Life on earth is the only one he has. He wants to savour it to the last drop:…it entails first of all emancipating oneself from everything that might waste or hinder the enjoyment of life, that might divert the living man’s attention from himself.

p311 …His irony, his dislike of big words, his calm way of being profoundly at ease with himself, prevent him from pushing on beyond the limits of the problematic and into the realm of the tragic, which is already unmistakeably apparent in let us say the work of Michelangelo, and which, during the generation following Montaigne’s, is to break through in literary form in several places in Europe.

p313  …Shakespeare’s work became the ideal and the example for all movements of revolt against the strict separation of styles in French classicism.

p317  …the Christian figural view of human life was opposed to a development of the tragic. However serious the events of earthly existence might be, high above them stood the towering and all-embracing dignity of a single event, the appearance of Christ, and everything tragic was but figure or reflection of a single complex of events, into which it necessarily flowed at last…this implies a transposition of the centre of gravity from life on earth into a life beyond, with the result that no tragedy ever reached its conclusion here below.

p318 …in the course of the sixteenth century, the Christian-figural schema lost its hold in almost all parts of Europe. The issue into the beyond, although it was totally abandoned only in rare instances, lost in certainty and unmistakability….In Elizabethan tragedy on the other hand—the first specifically modern form of the tragedy—the hero’s individual character plays a much greater part in shaping his destiny.

p319 …in Elizabethan tragedy and specifically in Shakespeare, the hero’s character is depicted in greater and more varied detail than in antique tragedy, and participated more actively in shaping the individual’s fate.

p320 …In Elizabethan tragedy we are in most cases confronted with not with purely natural character but with character already formed by birth, situation in life, and prehistory (that is, by fate)… 

p320 …the sixteenth century had attained a comparatively high level of historical consciousness and  historical perspective…

p321-2…In addition there is in the sixteenth century the effect of the great discoveries which abruptly widened the cultural and geographic horizon and hence also men’s conception of possible forms of human life….The world of realities in which men live is changed; it grows broader, richer in possibilities, limitless….a freer consciousness embracing an unlimited world.

p323 Shakespeare’s dramatic economy is prodigally lavish; it bears witness to his delight in rendering the most varied phenomena of life, and this delight in turn is inspired by the concept that the cosmos is everywhere interdependent so that every chord of human destiny arouses a multitude of voices to parallel or contrary motion….the drama of Christ is no longer the general drama…the new dramatized history has a specific human action at its centre….the road has been opened for an autonomously human tragedy..

p324 …The dissolution of mediaeval Christianity…brings out a dynamic need for self-orientation, a will to trace the secret forces of life….an immense system of sympathy seems to pervade the universe….In Shakespeare’s work the liberated forces show themselves as fully developed yet still permeated with the entire ethical wealth of the past. Not much later the restrictive countermovements gained the upper hand. Protestantism and the Counter Reformation, absolutistic ordering of society, and intellectual life, academic and puristic imitation of antiquity, rationalism an scientific empiricism, all operated together to prevent Shakespeare’s freedom in the tragic from continuing to develop after him.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing…  [Macbeth]

…we are such stuff

As dreams are made of, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.

[The Tempest]

p346.  [Cervantes: Don Quijote]  In his tragic/comic novel [Cervantes] ..has no idea of making a basic attack on the established legal order. He is neither an anarchist nor a prophet of the Kingdom of God……I think it wholly erroneous to look for a matter of principle here, for anything like a conflict between natural Christian and positive law. For such a conflict, moreover, an opponent would have to appear, someone like the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevski…

p347  Don Quijote preserves a natural dignity and superiority which for his many miserable failures cannot harm…do we hear wisdom speak through madness in his case as we do with Shakespeare’s fools or with Charlie Chaplin? No, that is not it either….He is wise and kind independently of his madness…

p355…It is not a philosophy; it is no didactic purpose; it is not even a being stirred by the uncertainty of human existence or by the power of destiny, as in the case of Montaigne and Shakespeare. It is an attitude—an attitude toward the world, and hence also toward the subject matter of his art—-in which bravery and equaninimity play a major part. Together with the delight he takes in the multirfariousness of his sensory play there is in him a certain Southern reticence and pride. This prevents him from taking the play very seriously. He looks at it; he shapes it; he finds it diverting; it is also intended to afford the reader refined intellectual diversion.

p358  [Cervantes] …This is the function of Quijote’s madness.…[in] Cervantes’ imagination, he also perceived a vision of how, confronted with such madness, contemporary reality might be portrayed…that it is a heroic and idealised form of madness, that it leaves room for wisdom and humanity, was no doubt equally pleasing to him…So universal and multilayered, so noncritical and nonprobematic a gaiety the portrayal of everyday reality has not been attempted again in European letters. I cannot imagine where or when it might have been attempted.

p386 C17th French classical theatrical tragedy (Racine/Molière/Corneille) withdraws the physical aspects of courtly love present in Greek and Roman tragedy and took over the sublime conception of love which the Middle Ages had developed in courtly culture, not without the culture of mysticism, and which Petrarchism had carried still further. Already in Corneille it is a tragic and sublime motif..and Racine gives it the overwhelming power which precipitates men from their courses and annihilates them. But in all this there is hardly a trace of the physical and the sexual, which the taste of the time considered base and improper.

p393  [In classical C17th tragic drama] the antique model is transcended, and the result is a sharp break with the millennial popular and Christian tradition of mixed styles. The exaggerated tragic character  (ma gloire) and the extreme cult of the passions are actually anti-Christian.This is a point which the theologians of the age who condemned the theatre had understood very clearly, especially Nicole and Bossuet.  Eg Bosuett: Maximes et Réflexions sur La Comédie: “Thus a poet’s entire design, the entire aim of his labours, is that we, like his hero, should be in love with beautiful women, that we should serve them as if they were divinities; in a word, that we should sacrifice all to them, unless perhaps it be honour, the love of which is even more dangerous that love of beauty.”

p398 Re C18th French literature: e.g. the Abbé Prévost (the story of Manon Lescaut). The intimately erotic in descriptions and allusions becomes very much the fashion from the Regency on. All through the century we find motifs of this kind in literature (and not only in erotic literature in the strict sense).

p399 During the classical epoch, in the days of Louis XIV, this form of eroticism does not even exist in comedy. Molière is never lewd. Now erotic and sentimental intimacy are fused and the erotic element appears even in the anecdotes produced by the philosophic and scientific Enlightenment.

p401-2 Quite different is the stylistic level of the realistic texts which serve the propaganda purposes of the Enlightenment…in the course of the [18th] century they become more frequent and increasingly aggressive polemically. e.g. the Philosophic Letters of Voltaire…it is the unexpected contrast of religion and business, in which business is placed higher, practically and morally, than religion.

p407-8 A specifically Voltairian feature is the swift tempo, which never becomes unaesthetic despite the author’s boldness, not to say unscrupulousness, in moral matters and his technique of sophistic surprise attacks. He is completely free from the half-erotic and hence somewhat hazy sentimentality which we have tried to demonstrate in our analysis of the text from ‘Manon Lescaut’. His unmasking in the spirit of the Enlightenment are never crude and clumsy; on the contrary they are light, agile, and as it were appetising. And above all, he is free from the cloudy, contour-blurring, overemotional rhetoric, equally destructive of clear thinking and pure feeling, which came to the fore in the authors of the Enlightenment during the second half of the century and in the literature of the Revolution, which had a still more luxuriant growth in the nineteenth century through the influence of romanticism, and which has continued its loathsome flowers down to our day. 

p408  …that Voltaire [in Candide] in no way does justice to Leibniz’s argument and in general to the idea of a metaphysical harmony of the universe, especially since so entertaining a piece as Voltaire’s novel finds many more readers than the difficult essays of his philosophical opponents, which cannot be understood without serious study. Indeed, even the observation that the supposed reality of experience which Voltaire builds up does not correspond to experience at all, that it has been artfully adjusted to his polemic purpose, must have escaped most contemporary readers, of if not, they would not have made much of it.

p410-11 ..Basically [Voltaire] is a moralist; and, especially in his historical writings, there are human portraits in which the individuality comes out clearly. But he is always inclined to simplify…the role of sole standard of judgment is assigned to sound, practical common sense…everything historical and spiritual he despises and neglects. This has to do with the active and courageous spirit with which the protagonists of Enlightenment were filled. They set out to rid human society of everything that impeded the progress of reason. Such impediments were obviously to be seen in the religious, political, and economic actualities  which had grown up historically, irrationally, in contradiction to common sense and had finally become an inextricable maze. What seemed required was not to understand and justify them but to discredit them.

p411 Tragedy itself becomes more colourful and clever with Voltaire, but it loses weight. But in its stead the intermediate genres, such as the novel and the narrative in verse, begin to flourish, and between tragedy and comedy we now have the intermediate ‘comédie larmoyante’. [“weeping”, tearful”]

p413 [Even writing about his own impending death, Voltaire]..refuses to let one’s own sombre emotions become a burden to anyone else; there is the didactic ethos which characterised the great men of the Enlightenment and which made them able to use their last breath to formulate some new idea wittily and pleasingly.

p433 Of a basic historical theory of the kind postulated by Historism, whose first manifestation began to be perceptible just at Louis, Duc de Saint-Simon was writing his memoirs, there is yet no trace in him. The individualism of his representation is limited to individual human beings; historical forces in a super individual and yet personalised sense are not within his range of vision….The purpose of the historian as he formulates it, is entirely moralising and didactic in the pre-historistic sense. But the multifariousness of the reality in which he lived and which inspired his genius made him go far beyond it.

p437 C18th German literature eg Schiller (Luise Millrun,  1782-3) and Goethe have nothing about them to remind us of the heroic exaltation, the aloofness from the everyday, which characterised French tragedy of the great period…the sentimental middle-class novel and the middle-class tragedy (comédie larmoyante) had evolved long before in England and France….In Germany …the evolution of middle-class realism assumed exceptionally vigorous forms. The influence of Shakespeare joined forces with that of Diderot and Rousseau; the narrow and disrupted domestic conditions furnished arresting subjects; works were produced which were at once sentimental, narrowly middle-class, realistic and revolutionary.  Eg Lessing: Miss Sara Sampson; Minna von Barnhelm; Emilia Galotti.

p438  The final connection of sentimental middle-class realism with idealistic politics an concern for human rights was not established until the Sturm and Drang period. Traces of it are to be found in almost all the authors of this latter generation: in Goethe, Heinrich Leopold Wagner,  Lenz, Leisewitz, Klinger, even in Heinrich Voss.

p441 the Western European beginnings of the novel of manners and of the comédie larmoyante, love reestablished contact with the ordinary reality of life, but lost some of his dignity in the process. It became clearly erotic and at the same time touching and sentimental. It was in this form that the revolutionaries of the Sturm and Drang seized upon it, and following Rousseau’s footsteps, again gave it the highest tragic dignity, without abandoning any of its bourgeois , realistic, and sentimental elements.

p442 Schiller presents his characters with hair-raising rhetorical pathos…this is not realism, it is melodrama…

p445 Contemporary conditions in Germany did not easily lend themselves to broad realistic treatment. The social picture was heterogeneous; the general life was conducted in the confused setting of a host of “historical territories,” units which had come into existence through dynastic and political contingencies.

p446 [The French Revolution ] aroused horror and revulsion in the majority of outstanding Germans, [and] …encountered a passive,defensive, and irresponsive Germany. And it was not only the imperilled powers of the past which met the Revolution in a hostile spirit, it was also the youthful German intellectual movement. And here we find Goethe….Goethe turns to generalities and ethical principles, sometimes in a disgruntled mood, sometimes in a spirit of cheerfully pessimistic worldly and political wisdom.  

p447 Goethe adopted a selective approach to history e.g. commenting on the history of Florence under Lorenzo the Magnificent.: Had Lorenzo lived longer, and could a progressive, gradual development of the situation as laid down have taken place, the history of Florence would represent one of the most beautiful of phenomena; but it would seem that in the course of earthly things we shall but seldom experience the fulfilment of beautiful possibilities….For [Goethe], the fulfilment of beautiful possibilities” lies entirely in the flowering of aristocratic cultures in which significant individuals can develop unimpeded, and the principle of order which is present to his mind in such connections is comparatively eudaemonistic. 

p450  ….[the bourgeois]…must develop specific skills  to make himself useful, and it is taken for granted beforehand that his nature is not and should not possess harmony, because in order to make himself useful in one way, he must neglect everything else


p456  Early C19th French novelists e.g. Stendhal lived through the French Revolution, the relative “stability” of Napoleon, the three day reign of the Bourbons and the July Revolution, after which the aristocracy by and large needed to find a job. It is not too easy to describe Stendhal’s inner attitude toward social phenomena. It is his aim to seize their every nuance; he most accurately represents the particular structure of any given milieu, he has no preconceived rationalistic system concerning the general factors which determine social life, nor any particular concept of how the ideal society ought to look.

p467  Romanticism, which had taken shape much earlier in Germany and England, and whose historical and individualistic trends had been long in preparation in France, reached its full development after 1820; and, as we know, it was precisely the principle of a mixture  of styles  which Victor Hugo  and his friends made the slogan of their movement…Another writer of the romantic generation, Balzac, who had as great a creative gift and far more closeness to reality, seized upon the representation of contemporary life  as his own particular task and, together with Stendhal, can be regarded as the creator of modern realism.  

p486  In Stendhal and Balzac we frequently and indeed almost constantly hear what the writer thinks of his characters and events…Both these things are absent from Flaubert’s work….upon a profound faith in the truth of language responsibly, candidly, and carefully employed—Flaubert’s artistic practice rests.

p491 Auerbach suggests that throughout the C19th France played the most important part in the rise and development of modern realism. Germany was held back by the lack of unification.In England the development came about more quietly and gradually…more moralistically [eg Fielding’s Tom Jones]; ..even in Dickens, whose work began to appear in the thirties of the C19th, there is, despite the strong social feeling and suggestive density of his milieux, almost no trace of the fluidity of the political and historical background. Meanwhile Thackeray, who places the events of “Vanity Fair” (1847-48) most concretely in contemporary history (the years before and after Waterloo), on the whole preserves the moralistic, half-satirical, half-sentimental viewpoint very much as it was handed down by the C18th. We must, unfortunately, forego discussing the rise of modern Russian realism (Gogol’s “Dead Souls” appeared in 1842)..even in the most general way.; for our purpose, this impossible when one cannot read the works in their original language.

p500 Re the work of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (e.g. Germanie Lacerteux, 1864)…the worst danger which threatened a work of art was indifference!…The Goncourts charge the public with corrupt and perverted taste, with preferring false values, pseudo-refinement,  pruriency, reading as a comfortable and soporific pastime, books which end happily,  and make no serious demands on the reader…..the polemic of this preface is a symptom; it is characteristic of the relationship which had developed in the course of the C19th between the public and almost all important poets and writers, as well as painters, sculptors and musicians—-and not only in France…

p501  By way of explanation the first point that comes to mind is the tremendous and ever increasing expansion of the reading public since the beginning of the C19th, and the concomitant coarsening of taste. Intelligence, choiceness of feeling, concern for the forms of life and expression deteriorated….the lowering of standards was further accelerated by the commercial exploitation of the tremendous demand for reading matter on the part of publishers of books and periodicals, the majority of whom..followed the path of least resistance and easy profits, supplying the public with what it wanted and possible even worse that it would have demanded if left to its own devices….But who was the reading public? It consisted largely of the urban middle class, which had greatly increased in numbers and, in consequence of the spread of education, had become able and willing to read. Here we have the “bourgeois,” the creature whose stupidity, intellectual inertia, conceit, hypocrisy, and cowardice were attacked and ridiculed by poets, writers, artists, and critics from the romantic period on. Can we simply subscribe to their verdict? Are not these the same people who undertook the tremendous task, the bold adventure, of the economic, scientific, and technological civilization of the C19th, and who also produced the leadership of the revolutionary movements which were the first to recognise the crises, dangers, and foci of corruption inherent in that civilisation. 

p502  But there is something else. In France, the influence of religion had been more profoundly shaken than elsewhere….to be sure, justice had never ruled supreme in this world. But now it was no longer seriously possible, as it had been in earlier times, to interpret and accept injustice as decreed by God. A strong feeling of moral discomfort very soon arose.

p503-4 There now arose [after the 1850s] the conception and ideal of a literary art which in no way intrudes into the practical events of the present, which avoids every tendency to affect the lives of men morally, politically, or otherwise practically, and whose whole duty is to fulfil the requirements of style….the reaction was an absolute denial of every kind of useful function for literature because usefulness immediately suggested practical usefulness or dreary didacticism.  cf Malherbe…who is alleged to have said that a good poet is no more useful than a good bowler. It is to ascribe to literature and art in general the most absolute value, to make them the object of a cult, almost a religion. And thus so high a rank was assigned to pleasure—which was primarily a sensory enjoyment of expression…the attitude here described…became prevalent in the generation born about 1820: Leconte de Lisle, Baudelaire, Flaubert, the Goncourts.

p505-6 When we compare Stendhal’s or even Balzac’s world with the world of Flaubert or the two Goncourts, the latter seems strangely narrow and petty despite its wealth of impressions….today we read…something narrow, something oppressively close in these books.They are full of reality and intellect but poor in humour and inner poise….what finally emerges, despite all their intellectual culture and artistic incorruptibility, is a strangely petty total impression: that of an “upper bourgeois” egocentrically concerned over his aesthetic comfort, plagued by a thousand small vexations, nervous, obsessed by mania—only in this case the mania is called “literature”.

p510  Enter Emile Zola! …Among his enemies, who worked themselves into a fury over what they called the repulsiveness, the filth, and the obscenity of his art, there were doubtless many who accepted the grotesque or comic realism of earlier epochs, even in its crudest  or most indecent representations, with equanimity or even with delight. What excited them so was rather the fact that Zola by no means put forth his art as “of the low style,” still less as comic. Almost every line he wrote showed that all this was meant in the highest degree seriously and morally; that the sum total of it was not a pastime or an artistic parlour game but the true portrait of contemporary society as he—Zola—saw it and as the public was being urged in his works to see it.

p512  The art of style has wholly renounced producing pleasing effects in the conventional sense of the term. Instead it serves unpleasant, depressing, desolate truth.

p515  Zola has many successors…but Zola was the first [genuine researcher of the facts behind the content of his novels].

p516-17In its grasp of contemporary reality French literature is far ahead of the literature of other European countries in the nineteenth century….it is true that the best German works of this period had no world-wide importance…

p520-1   More lasting and important is the effect of the Russians. Gogol, it is true, had scarcely any influence in Europe, and Turgenev, who was on friendly terms with Flaubert and Edmond de Goncourt, would seem on the whole to have received more than he gave. From the eighties on, Tolstoy and Dostoevski begin to come into the picture… seems that the Russians were naturally endowed with the possibility of conceiving of everyday things in a serious vein; that a classicistic aesthetics which excludes a literary category of “the low” from aneroid treatment could never gain a firm foothold in Russia.

p524  Russian coming to terms with European civilisation during the nineteenth century was significant not only for Russia.. In this respect too the effect of Tolstoy and still more of Dostoevski in Europe was very great, and if, in many domains, among them that of realistic literature, the moral crisis became increasingly keen from the last decade before the first World War, and something like a premonition of the impending catastrophe was observable, the influence of the Russian realists was an essential contributing factor.

p531-2  [re Virginia Woolf: To The LIghthouse..] Virginia Woolf wrote this paragraph. She did not identify it through grammatical an typographical devices as the speech or thought of a third person. One is obliged to assume that it contains direct statements of her own. But she does not seem to bear in mind that she is the author and hence ought to know how matters stand with her characters. The person speaking here, whoever it is, acts the part of one who has only an impression of Mrs Ramsay….no-one is certain of anything here…

p534 The writer as narrator of objective facts has almost completely vanished; almost everything stated appears by way of reflections the consciousness of the dramatic personae.

p537  That there is something peculiar about the treatment of time in modern narrative literature is nothing new;  [Amen to that! do we need all this chopping and changing between three or four or more historical settings that we have to work out for ourselves by reference to a family tree? (which at least is given in Marquez: A Hundred  Years of Solitude!]

p541 …Virginia Woolf’s peculiar technique, as exemplified in [To The Lighthouse] ..consists in the fact that the exterior objective reality of the momentary present which the author directly reports and which appears as established fact—in our instance the measuring of the stocking—is nothing but an occasion …the stress is placed entirely on what the occasion releases, things which are not seen directly but by reflection..

…Here it is only natural that we should recall Proust’s work . He was the first to carry this sort of thing through consistently, and his entire technique is bound up with a recovery of lost realities in remembrance, a recovery released by some externally insignificant and apparently accidental occurrence….Proust describes the procedure more than once. We have to wait until volume 2 of “Le Temps retrievé  for a full description embracing the corresponding theory of art; 

p544  Re James Joyce: Ulysses…All the great motifs of the cultural history of Europe are contained in it, although its point of departure is very specific individuals  and a clearly establlished present  (Dublin, June 16, 1904). On sensitive readers it can produce a very strong immediate impression. Really to understand it, however, is not an easy matter, for it makes severe demands on the reader’s patience and learning by it s dizzying whirl of motifs, wealth of words and concepts, perpetual playing upon their countless associations, and the ever rearoused but never satisfied doubt as to what order is ultimately hidden behind so much arbitrariness.   [In my view the best way (the only way?] to read Ulysses is to read it in an edition with detailed explanatory notes e.g. James Joyce, Ulysses :The 1922 Text, Edited with an Introduction and notes by Jeri Johnson Oxford, OUP, 1993]

p545 the influence the procedure and traces of it [ie Proust and Joyce’s manipulation of time] ..can be found almost everywhere…Thomas Mann is an example, who, ever since his “Magic Mountain”, without in any way abandoning his level of tone (in which the narrating, commenting , objectivizing author addressing the reader is always present) has been more and more concerned with time perspectives and the symbolic omnitemporality of events. Another very different instance is André Gide, in whose “Faux-Monnayeurs” there is a constant shifting of the viewpoint from which the events (themselves multilayered) are surveyed, and who carries this procedure to such an extreme that the novel,  and the account of the genesis of the novella are interwoven in the ironic vein of the romanticists.

p549  For there is always going on within us a process of formulation and interpretation who’s subject matter is our own self. We are constantly endeavouring to give meaning and order to our lives in the past, the present, and the future, to our surroundings, the world in which we live, with the result that our lives appear in our own self. 

p550 This literary survey of the Western canon was written on the eve of World War 11 by a Jewish German national forced to live in Turkey. The final three pages are gripping reading. The spread of  publicity and the crowding of mankind on a shrinking globe sharpened awareness of the differences in ways of life and attitudes, and mobilised the interests and forms of existence which the new changes either furthered or threatened. In all parts of the world crises of adjustment arose; they increased in number and coalesced. They led to the upheavals which we have not weathered yet….these forces threatened to split up and disintegrate..fascism hardly had to employ force when the time came for it spread through the countries of old European culture, absorbing the smaller sects.

p551 Re the first half of  C20th literature,  there is in all these works a certain atmosphere of universal doom: especially in “Ulysses, with its mocking “odi-et-amo” hodgepodge of European tradition, with its blatant and painful cynicism, and its uninterpretable symbolism— for even the most painstaking analysis can hardly emerge with anything more than an appreciation of the multiple enmeshment of the motifs but with nothing of the purpose and meaning of the work itself.

p553 The concluding paragraph! Perhaps it will be too simple to please those who, despite all its dangers and catastrophes, admire and love our epoch for the sake of its abundance of life and the incomparable historical vantage point which it affords. But they are few in number, and probably they will not live to see much more than the first forewarnings of the approaching unification and simplification.

p557 From the Epilogue: … Nothing remains but to find him, to find the reader, that is.  I hope that my study will reach its readers—both my friends of former years, if they are still alive, as well as all the others for whom it was intended. And may it contribute to bringing together again those whose love for our western history has serenely persevered.

This edition contains an Appendix: “Epilogue to Mimesis” by Erich Auerbach and translated by Jan M. Ziolkowski, in which Auerbach responds to criticisms of his literary analysis especially by  fellow philologist Robert Curtius.  (1886-1956). It is fairly technical and includes his defence of not responding to some of the works of theologian Rudolph Bultmann on New Testament typology. Bultmann was  a personal friend of Auerbach, whose more current works were not available to him in Turkey but having now read them he was not disposed to make any changes to his major theses in Mimesis.

More wrangling with Wright: this time his commentary on Romans in the New Interpreters Bible Volume X (Nashville, Abingdon, 2002) chapters 1 -8

For many years I have seen Paul’s Letter to the Romans as central to understanding the Biblical basis of Christianity …so many powerful verses that over the years have been significant for me in my Christian life and growth. But Romans is also full of difficult and complex concepts. For the past 12 years each morning amongst other things I have read a passage from Romans, thinking about the Greek text and working twice now through Wright’s Commentary. (His commentary also provides helpful reference to many others including Luther, Calvin, Cranfield, Kasemann, Moo, Dunn, Fitzmyer, Bryan, Byrne, Donfried, Hays, Hay & Johnson, Wagner and since Wright, we now have Jewett, Schlatter in English, Bird, Longenecker, Schreiner, Witherington and many others besides).

I keep coming back to Wright because he insists on simply reading and working on the text as it stands and because he sees the whole book as a total unity, constantly demonstrating how Paul repeats and deepens concepts from previous chapters into a consistent and powerfully built up single argument. He has chapters 9-11 as the centre of the book and he constantly refers to whole Biblical story as uniquely reflected in Romans.  That is (i) the Genesis 12 story of God’s covenant with Abraham that through his seed, Israel, all the families of the world will be blessed; and (ii) the Isaiah 49 and 53  story that Israel is called to be a light to the nations and that their promised suffering servant is the Messiah who is God enfleshed in humanity for the purpose of the salvation of humanity.

Another helpful addition to Wright’s commentary is a series of far-reaching reflections  after each section of the text is dealt with. In typical fashion Wright seeks to relate Romans to  the C21st and, as ever, I have found his reflections to be thought provoking and powerful for my Christian life and thinking.  The following is a summary of the reflections from Chapters 1 – 8 of Wright’s Commentary with some comments of my own interspersed. (but it is mainly Wright!)


REFLECTIONS ON ROMANS  (Based on N T Wright: The Letter to the Romans: Introduction, Commentary , and Reflections, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume !X, Nashville, Abingdon Press,2002 pp393-770)


  1. The question of the righteousness of God (ie the justice of God – theodicy) looms large today because of the horrors and evident evil of the C20th (Armenia/Turkey/Greece ethnic cleansing, WW1, WW2, Holocaust, Hiroshima/Nagasaki, Korea, Viet-Nam, Cambodia killing fields, Mao Tse Tung and Chinese cultural revolution, Stalinist purges in Russia (30 million dead), Chile (Pinochet), Rwandan genocide, September 11 2001,  Balkans ethnic cleansing (Bosnia/Serbia/Croatia), Syria.  Where is God in all this when he has promised to bring all things into justice, peace and harmony including in the cosmos as a whole? The church’s ministry is to unveil God’s righteousness once more through the Gospel of Jesus, unleashing God’s power for salvation.
  1. The Gospel” in Paul’s letter to the Romans is not primarily about sinful human beings and how they attain justification and salvation for eternal life…this message was not simply the offer of a new reordering of one’s private spiritual interiority, a new clearing up of a morally dysfunctional life via forgiveness for the past and a new moral energy for the present. It was not simply a new vocation to live for God and for others in the world….it was rather good news about God and Jesus…that principalities and powers of darkness, sin and death had been defeated and were now summoned to was a command requiring obedience much more than an invitation seeking a response…..this command comes out of the blue, is unexpected and unwelcome and is never trendy. Our contemporaries are not interested in a Jewish Messiah from the C1st being proclaimed as the centre of history.  They say:

“surely the world has not in fact improved” (did Paul say it would?)

“Christianity has been responsible for great evils” (yes though demonstrably when in         rebellion against itself)

“surely we know Christianity is untrue?” (Well, no, we don’t)

Yes these objections must be  taken seriously but modernism’s and atheism’s  replacement is looking decidely threadbare.  When the Gospel is proclaimed and God’s justice is proclaimed by the Holy Spirit in God’s faithful people it is impossible to remain a mere spectator.

  1. In spite of the powerful message we bear we are not to be tyrannically overbearing…we are to be humble slaves of the living God dealing sensitively, in season, with those within our sphere. (see Paul’s humble prayer in Romans 1)
  1. The Gospel Paul proclaims is for both Jews and non-Jews in spite of the political incorrectness and anger this idea generates today. How can Christians have a message for Jews in an age of the Crusades and the Holocaust? Good question, difficult to answer, but how also can the Gospel be kept from the Jews …what right do we have to do this? The reality is that Jews are still called to recognise their Messiah.
  1. Christian proclamation cannot ignore human wickedness and the wrath of God which expresses his justice/righteousness. “Embrace” must be counterbalanced by “exclusion”. (Volf) The world says:”there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the human  race. It is unhealthy or morbid to dwell on sin always or to be drawing attention to it. It is pathological to approve of punishment, let alone retribution. It is bordering on blasphemy to suppose that God would ever be wrathful.”  But on the contrary we cannot ignore Paul’s stern warnings in Romans 1.
  2. Paganism and idolatry are both on the march today  eg worship of blood and soil (Nazism); worship of Mammon (materialism/greed esp Western economic greed); worship of Eros (dehumanising and dangerous pursuit of every erotic titillation); worship of Mars (War); worship of Nature (Pantheism).  All lead either to dehumanisation, human poverty, human slavery, human exploitation.
  1. Paul’s controversial comments about homosexuality relate to his view that the practice is a dangerous distortion of God’s intention of a male/female order in creation…as above human culture as a whole tends towards idolatry in this case erotic idolatry. It is a logical thing to argue that with greater knowledge of human psychology we should reassess the explanation of same-sex desires and orientation nor is he making a case by case analysis. Rather he is using rampant homosexual practice and public displays of homoeroticism as a symbol of cultural fracturing and idolatry. We cannot sideline this argument, but neither can we sideline his warning in chapter 2 that a moral superiority complex is equally evil. Christians have a basic vocation to be a light to the world in their own moral lives and their dealings with others of all beliefs and practices.
  1. Paul’s concern for truth achieved through the “renewal of the mind by the Spirit” clashes  with both Enlightenment foundationalism (cui bono…”who stands to gain?…claims to truth are often covert claims to power) and also Post-modern relativism. (Newbigin’s “wandering in a twilight where all cats are grey”…How can we know that Post-modernism’s claim about the relativism of truth is itself true?) (cf verification principle in logical positivism).


  1. Moralism itself is not wrong although the context of Paul’s moralism is different from pagan, Jewish or post-modern moralism; in any case  we do not need:

i) laissez-faire tolerance

ii) street-level existential ‘do what you please as long as it does not hurt anyone’

iii) those who do not practise what they teach eg Seneca; Johnson:The Intellectuals… but none avoids this e.g. sermon on the mount …secretly no-one is righteous.

iv) those who are hypocrites – denouncing the faults of others whilst secretly practising them themselves.


10.  The problem in our society is the projecting of our own vices on others and then angrily blaming them for the very same things. e.g. between parents and children; and also when journalists (the main source of moralising in our society ), whose own lives might not always bear public scrutiny , take delight in exposing, in the rich and famous, failings of which they themselves may be privately guilty.The Christian’s life should be open to the searchlight of the Holy Spirit, only then will one be able to gently and firmly articulate a standard and denounce evil.

11.   The final hope of a just judgment of God demands the challenge of realising God’s judgment in the present. We do not need:

– a vague hope for a better life hereafter  cf Marx ‘religion as the opiate of the people’. this is a parody of Paul’s teaching ..if we teach this we are agents of oppression!

– vague warnings about possible unpleasant consequences of wrongdoing.

– artificially pumped up shrill hellfire denunciations of sins and casual self-satisfied salvation assurance in Jesus. Rather we should be agents for realising God’s justice in the present time in all ways possible.

The Messianic hope has come forward into the present.

12.  It still needs saying…that the creator of the world has no ‘favoured nations clause’.  Noone, no culture, no nation, no ethnic group, can say, ‘because we are x. y or z, God will be gracious to us come what may.  [cf Volf: Exclusion and Embrace] This is of course particularly includes those who promote a particular Christian affiliation.What happens when God’s impartiality conflicts with the covenant made with Israel?….The Messiah promised to Israel, becomes the Messiah for all people! The failure of Israel to be God’s light to the Gentile world is the key to the interpretation of Romans. Israel’s prophesied redemption did not occur with the return from exile. It is not a geographic promise…..the so-called “personal relationship” with God is not the message of evangelism (Romans 2:17..we cannot brag about our relationship with God. The point throughout the Hebrew scriptures is that the creator of the world is Israel’s God and vice versa…the God of Israel is the creator of the world not just the creator of Israel.

13. Romans 2 bears a special message for professing Christians.  We cannot presume upon God’s kindness and forbearance.  There is a day when “…God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.”  We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of things done in the body.  To name the name of Jesus is, as Romans 2:16 makes clear, to invoke the one to whom all, especially his own, will give account.


14. Who is the teacher to the foolish and the guide to the blind? In our generation it is politicians, journalists, intellectuals, police, union leaders and the chattering classes but they all routinely show by their behaviour that they are blind guides. Idealistic Jews claim that the Zionist State of Israel is the light to the nations but poverty stricken Palestinians would beg to differ; Christians now consider themselves to be the light to the world and indeed there are many churches where the gospel is lived out in its full transforming reality but,  particularly at the point of unity many churches fail. Paul in Romans fights against the church splitting along cultural or ethnic lines using dogmatic differences as a cloak for continuing tribal identity. Sadly this still occurs today whether catholic/protestant warfare in Northern Ireland, Maronite Christianity in Lebanon, Orthodox/Catholic warfare in the Balkans. As long as those who name the name of Jesus Christ cannot at least share the Eucharist, cannot in some cases even pray together, the name of God will continue to be blasphemed among pagans.

15.  Paul’s claim in Romans 2 (even though ‘in tears’) that Christians are the people of the renewed covenant (‘true Jews’) is deeply offensive to:

– Modern Jews scarred by Nazism for whom the claim is anti-Judaism (ie a rejection of Judaism as a way of life) and anti-Semitic (a rejection of a particular race with overtones of C19th racial theories).

– Many modern Christians who were also scarred by the offence of the Nazi ‘final solution’ against the Jews as the effect of claims made by Paul in passages like Romans  chapter 2. The moral they think is that the Church must back off from such claims and should express faith in terms of spirituality, based on the Jew Jesus of Nazareth, which many Jews have found life-giving (part of the third quest?). Maccoby..Paul is to be rejected as the paganizer of the Jewish message of Jesus.

– Those ‘modernists’ (actually those rooted in C18th Enlightenment views) who think that all religions are inadequate approximations to truth and none has exclusive rights to it. This is a covert way of saying that the “religions of the book” (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) are all misleading since all of them make claims that the other must deny if they are not to lose their identity. This is combined with a secular agenda coupled with a laudable desire for humility and mutual respect, but sometimes using a highly arrogant liberalism that challenges all truth claims while pressing its own with remarkable intolerance. (how does the modern secularist know his/her truth claim is true?)

There are two responses:  i) Paul was in fact a Christian Jew who proclaimed to the world the Jewish gospel message (the one God of the whole created world , the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who gave the Torah, had now unveiled in Jesus the Messiah the final plan to bring justice and healing to the world.  Paul knew that this Gospel was ‘to the Jew first,’ but also and equally ‘to the Greek’.  Paul would never have countenanced a split twin-track salvation history (against Gaston and Gager).

ii) There is a curious anomaly in this ‘modernist’ Christian position which urges us to reject non-Jewish styles of Christianity and encourages the recovery of Jewish roots  and rituals including Christianised seder meals etc.  On the other hand we must reject all claims to be ‘the Jew’, ‘The circumcision’. The demon word is Supersession. In such a view the church has taken Israel’s place in God’s plan leaving no room any longer for non-Christian Israel.        This double position is grossly inconsistent. The Jewish roots of Christianity show us that all the early Christians rejoiced in their in their Jewishness, seeking earnestly to share the blessings of the Messianic age prophesied in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Deuteronomy and including figures like John the Baptist and the Essenes. It was the Jewish prophets who threw the membership of the renewed covenant open far and wide and it was unpopular then just as when Paul did the same. There is no easy solution to this massive problem which is why Paul mounted his large and complex argument in chapters 9 -11.


16.  Before we “apply” or “translate” the severe and dense verses of Romans 2 and 3 to our own day we must consider their relevance in Paul’s own time.  (their own unique meaning).  It is that God, always active within the world in various ways, acted uniquely and decisively at one moment in history. God will be just and faithful. Preachers cannot avoid being ancient historians if they are to avoid shallow anachronism. 

Since the enlightenment religious rhetoric has been in favour of broad general truths, timeless and abstract religious or ethical norms or guidelines. Modernity insists Biblical particularity is unjust. Projecting our hard won (and often deeply ambiguous) democracy on to the heavens we demand that all humans should have the same vote and voice. How, we ask, can a unique act of God be fair? cf the Barthian discussion whether Christianity is a ‘religion’ or a ‘revelation’. But we should not assume pace Kasemann that the Jews were following a religion only…they were clearly looking for a revelation.

Our confusion re God’s particular and decisive action is that we misunderstand its meaning..

  • it was not to convey information to humans
  • or to provide a set of rules to live by…that would be arbitrary and unfair
  • nor to straighten out a few kinks in creation (miracles).   Why would not God act in our day to straighten our genocide and mass destruction.

We must seek for another model of divine unique that of an architect who must design a blueprint at one time and place for the benefit of all. We have the glory of the ‘gospel’ …a god with muddy boots and dirty hands, busy at the centre of the mess so that all may be cleaned up and sorted out.

17. The point (or advantage) of being Jewish broadens out to the point of being human. Philosophy and theology, writers and artists ponder why ‘civilisation’ cannot build peace. The Jewish vocation was to bring light to the Gentiles. The human vocation is to reflect God’s image into the world. We could reject all of Judaism (Marcion); and all human vocation (New Age humans are part of the world’s problems and are only animals with highly developed brains ..Singer). But Paul argues that God has called and created humans to reflect God’s image in the world. The righteousness of God has been revealed in an obedient human (Jesus) to fulfil God’s purpose in creation. See especially 1 Corinthians 15: 20-28; Philippians 3:20-21; see also Hebrews 2:5-10.

17.Sin is controversial today. To deny human sinfulness (as many, including many Christians) do today is to deny the reality of evil and the heart of the “good news” …it is not good news if there is no evil to defeat. Much modern psychology just sees varieties of human behaviour but such rationalism leads to relativism. Tragically, just as those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it, so those who turn a blind eye to wickedness are always in danger of perpetrating it. (if there is no danger of disease why take precautions; if the human race is basically ok let’s eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall live!) At the same time post-modernity is is urging us to have a hermeneutic of suspicion ..of every word, action and motive and commands everyone to be true to themselves but such a command is deeply suspect.  It allows the bully, the tyrant, the murderer and the adulterer to be true to themselves and persuades us to thank God “we are not like other men” because we neglect to look into our own hearts and see our need for God’s salvation.

18.  Paul’s robust catalogue of evil always looks to the hope of God’s righteousness. He does not (like many preachers today) preach a denouncing dualism or a dismissive ignoring of sin because it is too depressing.

19. The dismissal of ‘works of the law” as a means of justification has many overtones which should not be mistaken for the fundamental meaning of Paul’s argument. It is Israel specific explaining that the Torah cannot define them as the eschatological people of God..Torah cannot perform this function. This warning sends signals in other spheres as well:

– Roman moralists of Paul’s day show that thought and noble intention are not enough

– Luther’s anxious fretting of ‘Christian duties’ was not enough

– Despite the Reformation the devout John Wesley had not heard the message of grace until he read Luther’s Commentary on  Galatians.

– The Enlightenment post-Kantian moral imperative preached as law to people to encourage them to recognise their inner guilt so they can preach the Gospel to them will not do …transformation is required.

–  C21st century “for me” Gospel screens out the other half of Romans and reduces the story of Israel to “the wrong way of approaching God or ‘religion’. The unique story of Israel and Jesus is the fundamental truth of the Gospel. Only thus can we retain the heart of Reformation theology with its defence of God’s righteousness, not ours.

20. Romans 3:21-26, so often quoted, states that the “righteousness” (ie saving justice, covenantal faithfulness) of the creator God has been revealed once for all in the death of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. This claim appears counter-intuitive in the contemporary world because his death, in fact, does not seem to have made much of a difference in the world. Two ‘Christian’ responses to this have been:

i) to reduce Jesus’ death as an example, albeit the supreme example of God’s love as a  ‘general’ truth rather than an event through which the world became a different place or

ii) a particular kind of ‘atonement theology’ that rescues souls out of the world leaving this worldly injustice unaffected  e.g. the “left behind” film series.( a retreat from Paul’s vision of God’s justice as well as that of the Jewish prophets and indeed Jesus’ own teaching)

Since the C1st other massive Western agendas have attempted to impress themselves on the contemporary world including, amongst others,

– The Renaissance world claim that by the rediscovery of classical virtues and art and their own unique understand the real significant change in history did not happen in the “Middle Ages” but in the C15th

– The Western Europe enlightenment view that C18th scientific and philosophical advances provided the real basis for a rival eschatology, not the C1st death of a Jew in Palestine.

[Wright could have added: The C7th Islamic revolution of Mohammed with its extreme view that followers of the Qu’ran have the only truth that matters..also the might and depth of Chinese philosophy/Buddhist teaching with its numbers and entrepreneurial strength has sights on world domination]

21.  This amazing theme of God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel, as an unbreakable commitment, even though Israel was unfaithful, demands further exploration…it is a theme not sufficiently remarked on or thought through. …in these verses Paul points to the promise beyond Israel to the promises and commands given by God to all humankind. The challenge is then to work out how the cross of Jesus unveils, in a decisive action , those promises as well; and how to live on the basis that it does so.

22. These verses state in sharp and concise form the extraordinary and earth-shattering proposition that the creator God has acted to provide the deeply costly remedy for the plight that hangs over all humankind. Not to be deeply moved by this is to fail to listen. ….Verses 21-26 could stand as a heading over one gospel passage after another, as though to say, “this is what the story is all about.”

23. This passage also highlights one aspect of Paul’s complex portrait of Jesus.His faithfulness.  Given a vocation, He was true to it, though it cost Him everything. It is a matter not for guilt on our part (although this might be a helpful side effect, but for awe and gratitude. This faithfulness impinges on each of us personally…cf Galatians 2:20  The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.  This faithfulness of Jesus sustains the whole argument of the rest of Romans and it can also sustain the believer and the Christian community through all the trials that beset them (in being light and salt to the world). Paul emphasises in Romans 8:35 that this grace and redemption comes through the love of “the Messiah” (tou Christou).  It is that kind of subtle change that tells us where his heart really is.

24. Following the hateful Christian history of persecution of the Jews we should always remember that for Paul, the Gospel was “to the Jew first and also to the Greek”. The Jews are still the object of God’s love and grace (as they were “entrusted with the oracles of God”. We must not despise or reject/ignore them, that is offensive. But the Gospel is offensive to Jews (a crucified Messiah who died for love of the whole world …not just Jews and not just Christians! The Gospel is also offensive to the post-enlightenment West for whom inoffensiveness  is a supreme virtue. Current single race or single culture Christian churches are understandable but are just as dangerous and indeed sad as the division between Gentile and Jewish Christian churches in the first century. There is no ‘favoured nations’ clause in Christianity.  cf Tutu: God is not a Christian!

 25. No favoured nations clause applies also to communities and nations not just churches. There is no room for African tribalism (Rwanda); Ethno-centric nationalism and  cleansing (Balkans); Republican or Unionist Christianity (Northern Ireland) or militant Christianity of any sort, Lebanese or white Australian.  All dishonour God (“with their sharp feet they spew out blood, poison is on their lips”). We should hang our heads in sorrow (Miroslav Volf).

26. For more than half a millenium Protestant Christians have been fighting a war against Catholicism but sometimes the targets have been very confused. Romans addresses two fronts: (i) Justification and salvation cannot be earned..both are the free gift and grace of God  (Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling). (ii) The heart of the Torah is still significant  but for daily living and an awareness of sinfulness, not for justification. Where the church has gathered accretions to the doctrine of justification by faith alone including embracing the enlightenment dualism of reason and contingent historical reality, introducing to Protestantism the sense that anything to do with physical objects or behaviour was somehow “worldly” as opposed to”godly”, creating a subtly different protest not against “works righteousness” but against having anything to do with the present world. This leads to a disdain for creation and a disdain for political and social action for which liberation theology was a natural correction. In worship it led to a “low church mentality” of disdaining against any liturgical practice or tradition (including movement, gestures, objects, robes, even the liturgy itself) as a form of “legalism” and a compromise of the Gospel. While it is true that worship activities can come to be regarded as “things we do to earn God’s favour” such a conclusion can also come from an adherence to Quaker silence or a charismatic prayer meeting. Such debates, while important, are not what Paul is arguing in Romans 3.

A similar disdain for formality came with the Romantic poets’ sense of awe and wonder in the natural world and the idea that the only ‘authentic’ way for humans to do anything was to act as if it were spontaneous and did not have to be carefully worked out…the impact was a common Protestant desire for spontaneity and freedom from rules.  But this ignores the value of carefully thought out prayers, the drama of the eucharistic liturgy, and the sense of worship that quiet liturgical process can create. Reducing liturgy to only the words of Paul himself or Jesus filtered through translation, reformation and enlightenment has everything to do with personal, social and cultural preferences and prejudices and nothing to do with Paul.   A good deal of polemic that disguises itself with theological language is in fact a determination to preserve one particular cultural heritage and way of doing things which is the very thing Paul opposed in Romans. The great final climax of his letter in chapters 14 and 15 demonstrates that “justification by faith”  is designed to result in “fellowship in faith” in which different cultures and different ways of doing things respect and celebrate one another’s practices.  It remains a difficult problem for the church to determine what is the essence of the Gospel that should be preserved at all costs and what is a matter of theological indifference. The main challenge of the Western church in the C21st is how to preserve the celebration of different cultures from degeneration into  a mere postmodern smorgasbord of options in which everything including morality and theology , are up for negotiation.   Yet the challenge of Romans is that Jews and Greeks belong together in God’s family and should learn to work that out in practice. This must be the guide for solving all our divisions today.


26b (p505)  There is a non-negotiable task of persuading those who believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord to see themselves as the children of Abraham.  The Pauline picture of the people of God is inescapably rooted in the history of Israel from Genesis 11 (and in a metaphorical way from Genesis 3) onward. Therefore we must have a non-Marcionite view of Scripture. The fulfilment of God’s promise is central. But this family is NOT defined by Jewish law but by the faithfulness of Abraham in the faithfulness of God.  The Christian church is not therefore “ a new group” it is the same God and the same promise as Israel’s God.  Like Israel our task is to be a light to the world, bearing witness to the Jesus’ resurrection as the ultimate revelation of God’s love for the world and its people and God’s supreme action in dealing with human sinfulness with justice once and for all, for ever and since creation.

27. Within the ‘belief in the resurrection’ family of Christianity, there is no room for sub-definitions. Christianity should not be defined by culture, especially not our own culture. Christians naturally gravitate toward communities of similar background, personality, speech, social position, bank balance, theology esp.  in Western urban areas. Our reasons would be regarded by Paul as irrelevant, even damaging. It is a world -wide community based on God’s promise to Abraham [and it is or will be a universal community based on Jesus death on the cross for all who seek a meaning in God beyond themselves and live accordingly].

28. Christians must embody in their church life the faith articulated in Romans 4:4 – 8 (a forgiven community because there is none who is righteous. God in Christ has enabled all people to return to him who are prepared to walk in faithfulness illustrated by Abraham who have received a right standing with God based on the faithfulness of Jesus in the Cross. As Christians we are to shine as lights in the world witnessing to others of the light of Christ which can transform human life into eternal life, beginning now and also begin to redeem the earth and its peoples.Through this life we can overcome any evil. This acceptance by God does not give us the right to be snobbish about those who use religious practice to come close to God. Piety does not earn God’s favour but neither does impiety. Neither religion or irreligion will do; neither moralism or immoralism but rather seeking to walk in the way of God, not men. The tree is known by its fruit especially the corporate life of a group of Christians. We have this astonishing gift but we have not earned it by anything we have done or are..we are to be light and salt in the world (not death, darkness, judgment, or easy approval).  cf Kasemann’s repeated talk of homo religiososus.

29. Truth faith should reflect and feed on the character of God.  Humanity represents the image-bearers of God. Redeemed humanity responds to the death and decay in the world steadfastly acknowledging the God who raises the dead and creates out of nothing. Such faithfulness brings new life that reverses and undoes the idolatry of Romans 1 and  holds out the hope of a new remade humanity (as in Romans 12) ,transforming mind, character and behaviour including our behaviour toward the world.

30. It is not primitive thinking to base a theology on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. This was as ridiculous in the C1st as it is to many today. It did not become ridiculous in the Enlightenment. The foolishness of the Cross (and the empty tomb) fly in the face of human logic just as Abraham’s “dead” body and Sarah’s “dead” (as good as dead in both cases) womb opposes human wisdom. We might discuss the best way to speak of the resurrection in the C21st but “there is no room, as far as Paul is concerned, for that impossible hybrid, a Christian who does not in any sense believe in the resurrection of Jesus.



31  [Romans 5:1-5] God’s love of and  reconciliation with humanity demonstrated in and through Jesus the Messiah and his death is deeply personal and sits at the heart of Christian faith. If our hearts are not ‘strangely warmed’ when we read this and we see only theological derivations we have missed Paul’s point.  It is vital to keep Jesus, and the cross and resurrection, at the centre of the picture, and to invoke the Holy Spirit through whom God’s love floods our hearts.  We need to check regularly that we are not worshiping, and deriving spurious comfort from, an idol of our own imagining. Meditating on the death of Jesus is not of course just morbid fixation on the details of Christ’s suffering.

32 Romans 5:1-5 stresses God’s love leading to assurance (hope). When many Western Christians are flirting with universalism, there is simultaneously an underemphasis on the eternal security of Christian believers. It is almost as though we are trying to say that everyone else may well be saved but that we cannot be too sure about ourselves. The fact that the lives of some Christians make a mockery of their faith is beside the point  here (Paul deals with this over and over in 1 Corinthians). Those whom God justified, he also glorified..we need to grasp this.

33. Celebrating our sufferings is not morbid….it builds patience, endurance and tried and tested character. We need to model these traits in society. The post-modern West does not value these things wanting everything at once and the freedom to change character at the mood of the moment….it is in many ways a community without hope.  [cf Sondheim: Into the Woods ]

34 There is a political challenge in Christ’s loving sacrificial death for humanity. Jesus achieved justice through his own death not the death of those who stood in his way [contrast Roman justitia]  How might God’s reconciling action in Christ become the ground and model for the reconciliation of human enemies? Conservative Christians have focussed only on Jesus’ death for them and their spiritual growth.  Christian political activists have ignored Paul’s theology of Jesus’ death. We need both/and in real life.

35. We live in a world of the superabundance of God’s grace (Romans 5) if we have eyes to see it. Surrounded by sin, death and suffering  the vibrant plant of the Spirit’s life is planted side by side with all wickedness when we act in faith…the free gift following many trespasses….results in mission and prayer and a life-giving harvest. But our society has reinvented a secularised version of Original Sin under the guise of a hermeneutic of suspicion describing all life as hard, cruel and unfair. If there are signs of life and hope , they tend to be those we make for ourselves. Our culture oscillates between despair and self-salvation. 

36. The achievement of Jesus himself is always worth further explanation and meditation. In Romans we should limit the theology of the cross to Romans 3:21 -26 but add 4:25, 5:6-10, 6:3-11, 7:4, 8:3-4 and 8:31-39. For those who want to remain independent, being ruled by grace appears almost as much a threat as being ruled by sin and death….this is of course, absurd. Love seeks the well-being, the flourishing of the beloved, not their extinction or dimunition. To look love in the face and see only a threat is the self-imposed nemesis of the hermeneutic of suspicion.  (Nemesis = classically, the divine punishment for presumption and hubris). The free gift is offered through the obedience, the faithfulness of Jesus himself. Paul sees the voluntary death of Jesus as the  Messianic act par excellence, the triumphant accomplishment of that covenant plan for which Israel was called in the first place, the completion of the purpose for which God called Abraham. Paul’s allusions to the fourth servant song can be found in this passage (Romans 5).

37.  Paul’s personification of sin and death is not popular today where sin is seen as an outdated neurosis and death an unfortunate problem yet to be solved. In spite of the evil and violent terror of our age the world fears a true diagnosis not least because in the West the treatment may be humiliating. Fancy having to admit that those boring and out of touch Christians had the answers.  No, we will die as we have lived, in ironic agnosticism, worshipping Heisenberg’s uncertainty prinicple. Part of the problem is that traditional Christianity has operated on a truncated view of sin, majoring on personal, especially sexual immorality.  Political structural evil has been untouched by the church and when it is addressed the preachers who do so tend to leave the home base of Pauline theology in order to do so, not using the very resources which will provide the critique.  Romans 5 invites us to explore a reintegrated view of sin and death, rebellion and consequent dehumanisation, as the major problem of mankind.

38. The hermeneutic of suspicion interrogates every text, artefact, every piece of popular culture asking ‘whose perspective does it represent? who is it oppressing? who is implicitly marginalised by it?. Gaining huge breakthroughs by liberation movements for women and blacks it becomes a mind-set in itself …a doctrine of original sin without the free grace resulting in people having to feel guilty for what they inalienably are and apologising for innocent actions. It also produces a reflex “victim culture” in which those who feel “oppressed” or “marginalised” become blameless and any criticism of them is categorised as further oppression.   It is an attempt to erect a new ethical framework in the wake of the perceived failure of secularism’s failed morality. A true analysis of sin, structural and personal, would mean rediscovering that beyond proper and necessary suspicion, there is such a thing as trust, and that healthy societies, as well as individuals, thrive on it.


39. In Romans 6 and 12 Paul writes a “theology of the Christian life”. Being a Christian means living from within a particular story – the subversive story of God’s love for the world and Israel, and especially the Messiah, reaching to a climax at his death and resurrection. It is prefigured in the Exodus/Red Sea narrative and taken on by us at our baptism. Learning about the Christian life and learning about the God revealed in Jesus are two sides of the same coin. This story shaped our lives in baptism and must continue to shape thought, life, and prayer thereafter. Otherwise one will be living a lie, allowing sin to continue exercising a sovereignty to which it has no more right.

40.  This narrative has been woven deeply into the consciousness of Western culture and many movements, national, political, social and cultural, including some that are opposed to each other! have told their own stories as liberation narratives.  But the Exodus/Christian story cannot simply be one “little story” among others, just a part of the cultural smorgasbord, alongside other ‘religious experiences’ that effectively enslaved humans and led them off to die.  Even the postmodern critique that insists that all large metanarratives are instruments of slavery appeals to, and gets its power from, one story that, it assumes, is not: and that story is precisely its own version, filtered through many layers of cultural accretions, of the exodus narrative, the freeing of slaves from Pharaoh’s yoke. The Christian Gospel is, at this level, telling the story that all humans know in their bones they want to hear. It is true that in appealing to this story all kinds of things are said and done that in some way or other distort it, or even threaten to destroy it outright. e.g. international politics where one overthrow of power for “freedom” simply and quickly results in a new “enslavement” [eg the Arab Spring]. Cf business “freedom” in a take-over resulting in the destruction of other businesses; the freedom of people to express their sexual potential regularly results both in the dimunition of the freedom of others and also in their own enslavement  to destructive and dehumanizing habits of mind and body. With freedom comes new responsibilities.

41.  Romans 6 throws a bright spotlight on the dangerous half-truth, currently fashionable, that “God accepts us as we are”. True justification is by faith alone through grace alone but grace is alway  transformative. God accepts us where we are but God does not intend to leave us where we are.  The idea that Christian holiness is to be attained by very person simply doing what comes naturally would actually be funny were it not so prevalent. True freedom is not simply the random, directionless life, but the genuine humanness which reflects the image of God…found under the lordship of Christ

42. Baptism reminds us that without the Holy Spirit we cannot live up to Christ’s ideal in our own strength. We are all too aware that thousands, perhaps millions, of the baptised seem to have abandoned the practice of Christian faith and life; but we are nevertheless called to allow the dying and rising of Christ in which we have shared to have its force and way in our own lives. Through the Holy Spirit we will indeed be able to make our own the victory of grace, to present our members, and our whole selves, as instruments of God’s ongoing purposes.  Who seriously thinks they can live up to that ideal in their own strength? 44


43.  Romans 7:1 – 8:11 is a whole story, not to be cherry-picked. It is the story of God’s covenant love towards Israel whose family story goes back to Abraham—and Paul would insist that this is a non-negotiable part of being God’s people. It is the story that, following the Exodus from Egypt, Torah informs Israel in no uncertain terms that it is simply a subset of the people of “Adam” …of humanity, in slavery to sin and facing death…not just a story of ethnic Israel (which would have increasingly remote to later Christian living in any subsequent century.) It is the story of how God’s chosen people, with a vocation to be a light to the world, the church’s forbears, had to pass through the anguished realisation that the Torah alone could not deal with human sin so that, through the Messiah and the Spirit, new hope might be born.

44.  The Torah is holy, just and good. It is not responsible for sin or death, but is “used” by sin (human sin) to produce death. We must not  be Marcionites and semi, crypto-, and unwitting Marcionites [Cranfield: Romans Comm.] The Torah is God-given.  Any suggestion that law in general, or the law in particular, were or are shabby, second-rate, primitive, destructive of true religion, and therefore to be abolished, set aside, ore treated as irrelevant in the bright new day of a law-free faith, must be ruled out. 

45.  The Torah by itself is weak ..either in the Church or modern Israeli society…against those who would use it to reintroduce the death penalty, or believe God wills the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple or who want to see Jewish law as normative for Christians…this is to make the mistake of treating revelation in a flat, dehistoricized fashion.The Torah cannot give the life to which it points and accentuates the Adamic i.e. human condition. The whole Bible is the Word of God but it is a narrative rather than a law; a narrative reaching its climax in the life, death, resurrection and second coming of Jesus the Messiah.

46.   Romans 7-9 might reflect Paul’s sense of standing vis-à-vis his kinsfolk according to the flesh much as Moses had stood in Exodus 33, seeing Israel as a whole in rebellion against God and agonising over what could be done. Was Paul in Romans 7 when he describes “another law bringing death..” that the zeal he and others had for torah in his pre-Christian days was not only bringing death to those they opposed e.g. Stephen but also bringing down death on themselves, driving them closer to the brink of a war with Rome they could not possibly win? Perhaps this applies to many areas of conflict around the world, not just in Middle Eastern politics but wherever zeal for ancestral traditions, which may or may not have been good in their way and place, leads to idolatrous behaviour that is as destructive for the perpetrators as for the victims.

47.   Romans 7 can also be shown to refer to all humanity cf Romans 2:1-16, that even when the human race embraces and affirms some moral code, or even some moral principle, living up to it proves impossible. This does not mean that the code or the principle was wrong or misleading; just that there is a twist with the human race…which distorts the best intentions, and exposes self-interest at the heart of apparent altruism. Folk can easily say that the same is true of Christians also; so is the whole message of Romans invalid? No! The Christian is not “under law”, and is not “sold under sin”. There is an irony here in that in the 1960’s many folk trumpeted that that the old moral codes were no longer relevant (all we need is love!) and many in mainline churches bought this message and the moral chaos has been pitiful to behold. But it is somewhat unfair to hold up as prime evidence that Christians are “as bad as the rest’ those parts of the church that have exhibited major disloyalty to traditional Christian teaching over many years…why not look to the worldwide church where in places Christians can still be spoken of as folk who model a different way of holiness and self-sacrificial love..even accepting that the greatest  saints are still tempted and fail until Christ comes.

48. The C20th downplaying of sin and Sin (including within much theology) has damaged church and society. Politicians and media have pretended that a little more Western style democracy will solve the world’s remaining ills but the Western powers are just as riddled with corruption, selfishness and sexual and financial scandals as Africa or the East. There is such a thing as Sin [Paul uses the term 19 times between Romans 7:1 and 8:11; he can speak of Satan, but does so sparingly ..only once in Romans, 16:20 and only 10 times in the entire Pauline corpus]. Sin is more than the sum total of human wrongdoing. It is powerful and its power infects even those with the best intentions.

49.  The remedy for Sin is the Cross and the Spirit. It is a mystery that God “condemned Sin in the flesh of the Messiah” but this is the heart of Christianity. The world thinks this teaching will produce a human existence dogged by guilt, paranoia and self-hatred and liberal theology spent half the C20th seeking to get around the Pauline remedy. This makes nonsense of N T teaching which, with the diagnosis, provides the remedy..the great shout of ‘no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus..the liberating bracing Spirit of God in our lives of Christian freedom. Is it too much to ask that this dynamic can transform human government, law, individuals and the cosmos?

50.  Christian assurance is not self-assurance or formulaic and of course can be easily satirised. But distortions do not invalidate the reality…humility in some traditions demands questioning certainty of salvation and in other traditions certainty should be proclaimed on every occasion..the reality is that assurance in Scripture and Christian experience comes from the deepest wrestling and struggling. Still there should be no doubt of the outcome for the baptised (the symbol) , faithful (the sign) , Spirit-filled (the guarantee) follower of the Messiah.

51. There can be no split-level Christianity. Christians must be Spirit-filled but the work of the Holy Spirit cannot be narrowly defined or always obvious as some teachings have made out.  Unwitting passengers in the church, who think of themselves as Christians  but in whose heart and life the Spirit has not taken up residence, and who are still living “according to the flesh” whatever form that may take need to heed warnings against complacency as also super-spirituals need to heed warnings of superiority. The Spirit will (must) make a difference not just to how someone feels, but to how they live.

52.  The purposes of God, including the Torah, are mysterious as all true speech about God must acknowledge. The purposes of God, including the Torah, are darker and more unexpected than devout Judaism and serious Paganism will allow and call for intellectual recognition so much as for worship and love. Only a truly incarnational and trinitarian theology will meet the world’s need.  A purely covenantal private national story will remain inscrutable to the outside world, which will continue to believe that might and money are the things that matter; that sex is the greatest human pleasure and good and that killing people is the only way to get things done. Alas, in much of the world, even in much of the would-be Christian world, these things are still impicitly believed. It is time for a genuinely incarnational theology to be let loose again upon the world…a fully Trinitarian theology, calling forth worship, love and service, is the only possible basis for genuine gospel work that will bring life and hope to the world.


 53.  Christians live in a state of permanent indebtedness to God’s grace (like a drowning man being thrown a a life-belt.) This theology is sometimes vilified as perpetrating a bullying or dominating God. but this condition of permanent indebtedness to God is not diminution,  but rather an enhancement, of full human dignity. There can be no higher dignity than that of being remade in the image of God’s Son.  The alternative is to be remade in the image of that which is enslaved to decay and death. Being finally overwhelmed by love we discover a fulfilment, a self-realization, through self-giving and self-abandonment, so the story of grace is one in which humans find themselves by losing themselves. This is not immature dependence. It is like the mutual giving of those who live in love to another person.

54.  Christians are called to work to bring about God’s new creation, not to with passively for Armageddon. We must work in the areas of ecology, restorative justice, politics and aesthetics to bring full healing to the created order. We must not allow the world to be manipulated by science or exploited by technology. It will not do to concentrate on individual justification while allowing wider issues of justice to go unaddressed.  A world full of corruption, injustice, oppression, division, suspicion and war  needs Christians to be in the forefront of bringing, in the present time, signs and foretastes of God’s fresh beauty to birth within the world, signs of hope for what the Spirit will do.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And, though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs—-

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings

Gerard Manley Hopkins,  God’s Grandeur.

55.  In Christian experience there is both the assured child-parent love relationship that enables us to call God “Abba” and also the inarticulate groaning which is all that is possible when confronting the absolute horror and trauma of evil in the world. We live in this period between the first and final full revelation of Christ the King. Prayer itself is a matter of both knowing and not knowing, of security and insecurity,  of “having nothing but possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10). The call to this kind of inarticulate prayer is not exactly the same thing as the discipline of silence is not simply contemplation or stream of is rather an agony that would come into speech if it could. Inaugurated eschatology does not mean that all problems are solved..laid out for us to put into practice…but we can indeed count on the victory of the Messiah on the cross and the gift of the Spirit. The two go together in Paul and in Christian experience.

56. Intercession for the world is not an optional extra and this includes intercession for ourselves as long as we do not become self-centred. If we are God’s beloved children, our small as well as our great concerns matter.

57. Suffering is a mystery, indeed.  It is to be rejected as a final good…Christians do not embrace some kind of masochism. Yet suffering is embraced as a sign of the time at which we live and even as a part of the means by which redemption comes into the world. But the redemptive value of suffering cannot be preached by the comfortable to the uncomfortable…by the elderly to youth going off to war, by masters to slaves, by men to women. Yet the abuse of suffering does not invalidate the lessons and personal growth which come from suffering.  Nevertheless we must beware of the danger…“the corrupting of the best is the worst of all”… There is also a component of suffering which, for the Christian, is messianic and redemptive. Suffering can be transforming and transformative. When, in 1998, Westminster Abbey decided to fill the ten vacant niches on the West Front with statues of C20th Christian martyrs, there was no shortage of candidates. The choices were revealing and powerfully evocative of the worldwide spread of the faith and of the challenge still posed by the Gospel to the power of the world, and vice versa: Maximilian Kolbe, Poland (1941); Manche Masemola, South Africa (1928); Janani Lowum, Uganda (1977); Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia (1918); Martin Luther King Jr, USA (1669); Oscar Romero, (El Salvador (1980); Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Germany (1945); Esther John, Pakistan (1960); Lucian Taped, Papua New Guinea (1942); Wang Zhiming, China (1972).

58.   In a way that is characteristic of Romans 5-8 as a whole, Jesus is seldom mentioned yet everywhere present. “Fellow heirs with the Messiah” (8:17) means being “conformed to the image of God’s Son.” (8:29)…It would not be fanciful to see Gethsemane standing behind 8:18-27, if not in Paul’s conscious mind, nevertheless in the strong tradition of the earth church reading these words (see Hebrews 5:7-9) [In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able  to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.]

59. The rootedness of the entire discussion of Romans 5-8 in the narrative theology of the exodus enables one to suggest a pattern of Christian reading of the Old Testament that is neither simply historical nor simply typological. On the one hand it is important that the original events are seen in their own right, as the formative events of the people of Israel. On the other hand, as many different strands within Second Temple Judaism bear witness, the exodus story was used as a template for the great expectations which were cherished in the time of Jesus. God would, many believed, accomplish something for which the original exodus would be both a historical starting-point and the pattern. Paul, in company with many other early Christians, believed that this had happened in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and in the sending of the Spirit by which the church was enabled to go forward to the promised land of the new creation in the kingdom of God on a renewed earth. This reflects part of what Paul meant by saying that Jesus’ death and resurrection had happened “according to the scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

60.  Christian security is based, in Paul in Romans 8:31-39, on a specific trinitarian revelation of God In Paul’s theology, spirituality, faith and hope are all focussed on this very specific God. Not the vague dream of God or God through a thick cloud; not a vague Deism; not a God to whom there could be many routes or of whom there could be many revelations. In the post-Christian West this belief has been misunderstood, scorned as incomprehensible, arrogant, cocky and set aside in favour of pantheism or panentheism. It is true that God will eventually be “all in all” but this eschatology is only inaugurated in Christ. It is not complete. Although, in principle, the creator is knowable through creation, to search for a divinity within the created order is out of the question. Christian assurance, not found in the New Age, or any other religion, must, however, face the challenges of suffering with Christ or it will remain at best, immature. 


61.  Christian assurance is kept in place in the Bible. Paul’s use of Scripture is not, as some commentators have suggested, unprincipled or peculiar. It speaks of the pattern of the covenant God redeeming his people through Israel and Israel’s suffering and triumphant servant Messiah. Paul brings together law, prophets and writings in a web of allusion and echo to which (it seems to me) only the most pedantic of scholars can remain deaf. Paul brings these themes together in order to say in practice what he says explicitly in Romans 15:4: these things were written for our encouragement, “so that through patience and the comfort of the scriptures we might have hope.”   The people of God in the present are not simply a creation out of nothing; they are, however unexpectedly, the family promised to Abraham. The problems faced by Abraham’s family before the Messiah’s coming, notably the fulfilment of the covenant,  were problems Paul believed had been answered in Christ. The resurgence of apparently similar problems in the church was to be answered in terms of life in Christ and the victory of the Spirit. The church’s task, in its own use of the Scriptures, is to hear both the earlier stages of its own story and the continual resonances in the echo chamber of the messianic events concerning Jesus which will inform and guide its own journey through the wilderness. Learning to hear these multiple resonances with the proper blend of imaginative attention and discipline is a major part of Christian teaching and discipleship.

62. In Romans 8:31-39 Paul describes the suffering Christians will inevitably face because of their faithfulness to the Gospel in more detail than anywhere else in his letters save 2 Corinthians  6 and 11. This suffering is real—both physical and the opposition of supernatural powers/cosmic forces. It is not the gaining of a higher consciousness that overcomes pain, or the attainment of personal self-advancement or fulfilment. There are many forms of Christianity on offer today that pose no threat to any principalities and powers, and indeed make a virtue of not confronting anyone with anything. What kind of authenticity can they claim? This is not to defend or be confused with some would-be preachers and evangelists, who are often enough propagating not the gospel itself but a particularly brittle parody of it, which can only be defended by shouting louder! But for Paul the message of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus never failed to arouse the wrath of the powers in one way or another. If this message were to catch on, the world would be turned upside down, and a lot of vested interests with it.  [eg the world’s arms industries??] The Western church is in danger of selling a spiritual version of the good life…”life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

63. The theme of Romans 8:31-39 is the love of God, the ultimate human fulfilment, among the most basic and vital Christian disciplines, matched by opening one’s heart and life to the tidal wave of love, displacing all rivals, a vast sea that we must swim in or sail on. Amor ergo sum, I am loved, therefore I am! God’s love is beyond all human government and the hermeneutic of suspicion, (which speaks of original separation from God and by cosmic human pride), seeking justice, opposing exploitation.  Being loved by the true God, we are to become truly human beings in sharing that love. The love of God proposes a hermeneutic of trust..not a casual or shallow trust of any person or proposition that comes along, but a deep and hard won trust, a knowing that is born of being loved and of loving in return. We have in Romans the greatest exposition of the victory of the God of love over sin and its consequences. And this is the love, seen supremely in the death of the Messiah, which reaches out to the whole world with the exodus message, the freedom message, the word of joy and justice, the word of the Gospel of Jesus.